Radiation therapy for Hodgkin lymphoma
Radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy) uses radiation to kill or damage cancer cells so they cannot grow, multiply or spread. The radiation is usually in the form of x-ray beams. Your treatment will be carefully planned and precisely targeted to do as little harm as possible to your healthy cells.
Learn more about:
- Having radiation therapy
- Side effects of radiation therapy
- Late effects of treatment
- Video: What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy for Hodgkin lymphoma is generally given after a course of chemotherapy. It usually involves multiple small doses over several days or weeks. The length of treatment will depend on the size and stage of the Hodgkin lymphoma and your general health.
During treatment, you will lie under a large machine that directs radiation at the area affected by lymphoma. Each treatment session takes only a few minutes, but it can take longer to set up the equipment. Your first radiation therapy appointment will take 1–3 hours because you will see the radiation oncologist, have extra tests and have your treatment carefully planned. You can usually go home straight after each session.
The most common side effects of radiation therapy are tiredness and lack of energy. Other side effects will depend on the part of the body being treated: for example, radiation therapy to the abdomen may cause an upset stomach and diarrhoea, while radiation therapy to the neck can make your mouth and throat sore and dry, make it harder to swallow and affect your sense of taste. Treatment can also lead to skin changes such as red, dry and itchy skin at the treatment area.
Side effects can build up towards the end of the course of treatment, but most will be temporary. You will have regular reviews with the radiation oncologist or other team members to monitor your progress and support you. Talk to your treatment team about any side effects that concern you.
For more on this, see Radiation therapy.
Some side effects from treatment may not show up until many months or years later. These are called late effects. Your treatment will be carefully planned to reduce the risk of any of these late effects.
Heart problems – Chemotherapy can increase the risk of heart disease, although this is less common with the current treatment plans. Radiation therapy to the chest area can lead to heart disease.
Second cancer – In some cases, there may be an increased risk of developing another cancer near the area where radiation therapy was given. Radiation therapy to the chest area is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer. People treated with some chemotherapy drugs may also have a higher risk of developing a second cancer later.
Thyroid problems – Radiation therapy in the neck area increases the risk of having a stroke or may cause an underactive thyroid gland.
Early menopause and infertility – Some chemotherapy drugs can damage your ovaries or testicles. This might lead to early menopause in women, and reduced fertility in both men and women.
Osteoporosis – Women who reach menopause early because of their lymphoma treatment may also be at increased risk of osteoporosis (when bones become weaker).
Your doctor will talk to you about late effects before treatment starts, but these effects are less likely now because staging and treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma have improved. However, if any symptoms appear, even many years after treatment, ask your GP whether they could be related to the treatment you had for Hodgkin lymphoma.
Video: What is radiation therapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Abir Bhattacharyya, Bone Marrow Transplant and General Haematologist, Westmead Hospital; Katrina Debosz, Blood Cancer Nurse Practitioner, Institute of Haematology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; Taylah Dvorak, Consumer; Erinna Ford, Consumer; Dr Nada Hamad, Senior Staff Specialist, Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapies, and Clinical and Laboratory Haematologist, The Kinghorn Cancer Centre, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney; Prof Angela Hong, Radiation Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and Clinical Professor, The University of Sydney; Suzanne Hough, Senior Clinical Dietitian, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Westmead Hospital; Yvonne King, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Samantha Rennie, Social Worker – Haematology, St George Hospital, Sydney.
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